“You’re in labour! We’re sending an ambulance to you straight away. But if you can get here by car faster, do that!” a midwife orders to me over speakerphone at 12.17am Tuesday morning.
“What? This can’t be. I’m only 4 months pregnant,” my voice trembles in disbelief. I look at my husband Ian sitting at the edge of our bed in our London apartment and watch his body freeze in shock and despair.
“Joy, I know you’re surprised. But you’re having a miscarriage. The intense pain you’ve described, are contractions,” the midwife strongly repeats.
My heart drops and I start to panic.
“Contractions? I’m having a miscarriage? I’m in labour?” I think to myself. I have no idea what to do.
It was only last week I stupidly told my closest friends and family we’re expecting a baby girl my husband even called Skylar. She is supposed to be our little miracle.
And just two days ago we did a photoshoot to capture what we thought was a happy time in our marriage.
And yet despite passing the first trimester danger zone, having a complication and nausea free pregnancy… I was having a miscarriage at 4 months.
As the news sink in, my heart paces faster in anger. I chuck Ian’s phone across our grey bedding towards him and ask him to talk to the midwife while I prepare to give birth.
I quickly grab my phone to call my mother.
“Mum, I’ve called 999 and my midwife, and they both say… I’m in labour. I’m having a miscarriage. Please…. help me. I don’t know what to do.” I pant while struggling to breathe in between the waving spikes of pain.
My mother then does what I never expected.
“What??? I don’t care who you spoke to… You are NOT in labour. You are NOT going to lose this baby. You are going to hold onto this baby!”
I didn’t know if she was in disbelief herself until she continued,
“Don’t listen to what anyone has to say. Midwives, nurses, doctors and helplines get things wrong sometimes okay. I need you to believe they got it wrong!” she desperately pleads to me.
I don’t say anything and instead moan in agony.
“Did you hear me?? YOU ARE NOT LOSING THIS BABY. I need you to say that out loud.” my mother demands.
In between the excruciating spikes of pain, I slowly utter the words “I’m… not losing… this baby.”
“Good! Now breathe with me until you get to the hospital. Breathe innnn…….. breathe out…” she exhales loudly.
As I breathe with my mother, I go from panic mode into problem solving mode.
If I’m not in labour, what’s happening to me?
Then suddenly the penny drops.
Last year I had major surgery to remove a borderline malignant tumour bigger than a tennis ball on my pancreas, along with my gallbladder, duedenum, bile duct and half my pancreas. I was told there was a 10% chance of a cancerous recurrence and a 50% chance I’d have a major complication that could kill me or require another major surgery.
The reason my husband and I tried for a baby was because we celebrated a year of a miraculous recovery with no complications.
Suddenly I get flashback to a conversation I had with my obstetrician just weeks ago. My mind replays the conversation word to word.
“As your baby grows, your risk of getting a major complication from last years surgery increases… You could get gestational diabetes. Or an abdominal obstruction. Did your surgeon mention an abdominal obstruction?”
Unsure, I asked “What’s an abdominal obstruction?”
My obstetrician frowned and replied… “You’ll know when you have one. Call the hospital immediately if this happens okay? I don’t want you to worry because it might not happen. I just thought you should be aware.”
As I remember this conversation, I pray I have an abdominal obstruction.
Desperate to rule out the possibility I’m having a miscarriage, Ian paces up and down the light wooden floors in our bedroom as he tries to call both my obstetrician and surgeon.
Neither of them answer.
“You have reached the voicemail of…” an automatic answer machine interrupts.
Ian turns white as a ghost… “Babe… they’re not picking up?!!”
I look at my watch. “It’s 12.30am. They’re probably sleeping. Email them. They’ll check their email as soon as they wake up.”
As I moan and groan in agony at the edge of the bed, my husband writes an email to both my obstetrician and surgeon asking for their help on diagnosing my pains.
Suddenly, Ian yells, “Fuck!”
I look up to see him in tears with his head in both his hands.
“What? You’re scaring me!” I yell back.
“Both your obstetrician and surgeon are on holiday. I got out of office replies… one’s in Bangkok for 2 weeks with family and the other is God knows where,” he reveals.
I stare blankly at him. Lost for words, I don’t know what to do. Or who to turn to. The healthcare providers around me are 100% convinced I’m having a miscarriage and I’m being delusional about the possibility of my abdominal pains being something else.
Suddenly we hear banging on our front door. The paramedics have arrived.
“Joy, we’ve been told you’re in labour and we need to take you to the labour ward. How many minutes are you in between contractions? Has this changed since you spoke to the midwife?” A paramedic softly asks.
I freeze and look at the paramedics in silence.
A part of me wants to listen to the advice I’ve been given and accept this is my reality.
But another part of me is terrified and ashamed at the thought of losing my baby.
Trying to grab my attention, the paramedic asks again, “How many minutes are you in between contractions?”
I take a leap of faith and deflect. “I’m not in labour…. I mean… I could be… but…”
The paramedic looks at me firmly and says “Darling… I know this is hard – “
I interrupt with conviction, “- Look! I’m not having contractions! My case is complicated… too complicated. I believe I have an abdominal obstruction. So, please. Don’t take me to the labour ward… take me to A&E to get checked out.”
The paramedic looks at her colleague like I’m in denial, before turning her head back to me, “Do you know what an abdominal obstruction is? Do you know the symptoms?”
I exhale, look down and shake my head. “No. I don’t know what it is. All my obstetrician said was it could happen and I’d know when I had one…. So… this is me KNOWING I have one.”
Though the paramedic isn’t convinced, given my previous surgery and medical history, she figures it wouldn’t do any harm to take me to A&E instead of the labour ward.
As I get driven there, I breathe a sigh of relief that I’m not going to the labour ward.
Little did I know, in just a few hours, the news I thought I wanted to hear… wasn’t the news I wanted to hear at all.
As soon as I get to A&E, doctors run various tests and scans.
When the clock strikes 8.05am, a Spanish general surgeon opens the curtains to my hospital bed in the surgical ward.
Dr Rodriguez looks firmly in my eyes and babbles,
“Joy – a.. you have … a complete… real-a… abdominal obstruction…. Blah…blah…blah .. result of last surgery.”
As he talks I quickly realise I don’t understand half of what he’s saying. His accent is so strong and his English is so poor, I have no idea what he’s talking about. Trying to listen closely, I close my eyes to hear his words.
“You need..a… surgery. Normally, I operate you straight away…. but two complications.
First. You’re pregnant. Not a good thing. A major surgery to remove the obstruction … a… puts you at risk of … a … losing the baby.
Second… your case… a.. extremely rare. Only 5% of hospitals in the U.K. have surgeons qualified to do your last major surgery. We don’t have… a … skills to open you up again. If we were to open you up.. a… we wouldn’t know how to find the obstruction safely and .. a… remove it without causing damage to what’s already been done.”
Confused, I blankly stare at him.
“So what does this mean?” I ask.
Dr Rodrigruez shrugs his shoulders in an i-don’t-know kind of fashion. “Hope it goes away… magically… by itself… and pray you don’t need … a … surgery. But…if doesn’t go away in ..a… 3 to 5 days… you need …a… surgery. We transfer you to another… a… hospital if have to. Can you see your…a… last surgeon… yes?”
I shake my head. “No, he’s on holiday and won’t be back for 2 weeks. If you don’t feel this is the right hospital for me to do the surgery, can it wait until my surgeon comes back?” I ask.
“I see… you’re unlucky… No. There’s a clock and…a…. it ticking. How long … you can live with obstruction not clear. If it doesn’t ..a… resolve itself…or get taken out on time … you may not be here anymore. 5.5% of obstructions are fatal and …a … looking at MRI scan, yours is one of them. Waiting for your surgeon… will be… a… too late. If we have to… a… operate ourselves, we’ll find a way. For now, don’t eat and don’t drink no more than a few sips of water a day. And rest. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Dr Rodriguez advises.
I couldn’t believe it. I wonder, how is my life in danger again?
Without pain relief or numbing medication, the nurses quickly force a 60cm tube up my nose and down into my stomach to pump things out. They insert a catheter and I’m injected with fluids in my hands around the clock to keep my alive as they wait and watch for a change in my obstruction.
Day one passes by… nothing happens.
Day two passes by… again nothing happens.
Day three comes … there’s no change and the surgeon begins to worry.
Day four passes by…the pain gets worse and I show symptoms that my body is starting to shut down.
The sun begins to rise on day 5, Saturday morning. My pain is the worst it’s ever been and before I know it, a new surgeon rushes to see me and opens my curtain.
In too much pain to look at him, all I hear are the words.
“Hi Joy… I’m Dr Smith. Five days have passed and you’re unfortunately getting worse. We have no option but to operate on you now. I’m waiting for the next theatre to be available and I’ll take you in right away okay?” he asserts confidently while rubbing his hands.
I look up and see a tall, dark haired, cheekily smiling and pretty handsome British doctor. And though his voice is very stern, his eyes sparkle, triggering the thought “This cute doctor speaks English!!”
I then pause when I realise the impact of what he’s just said.
Suspicious, I flinch when I ask, “Who are you? Dr Rodriguez said your team aren’t skilled enough to operate on me!”
Surprised by my firm resistance, he replies, “You should trust me because… Rejoyce… that’s your name right?”
I nod as I moan in agony.
Dr Smith smiles, “Beautiful name…. Rejoyce,”
He continues by boasting, “Look… I’m your BEST chance. In fact I’m your best and only chance!…. Well at least until Monday.”
“Why Monday??? Is a surgeon better than you coming on Monday?” I frown unimpressed.
Taken back, he laughs, exhales and shakes his head. “Sorry… that’s not what I meant. No one in this hospital is better than me.”
He walks closer to me, grabs my right hand and persuasively continues,
“I say Monday because today is your lucky day. I’m your guy. I simply happen to be on call today. I don’t work here on Monday. I do complex surgeries at another private hospital in London on other days of the week. Rejoyce… listen to me.
I want … I need to save you and the baby. We need to do this surgery NOW. You don’t have any more time and I’m the guy to do it.”
Feeling I’m putting my life in the hands of a smooth sweet talker, I nod and give in. “Okay…If you’re this confident, let’s do it.”
But as soon he leaves my hospital bed and closes my blue ugly patterned hospital curtain, seeing my husbands fearful eyes makes me break down immediately and I burst into tears.
It’s the first time I’ve let myself cry since this saga began… I couldn’t hold up and be strong anymore.
It dawns on me that I’m having a second major surgery to save my life.
And there’s a 90% probability this surgery will cause another abdominal obstruction and I’ll be back in this situation again. And a 28% chance this surgery will cause me to lose our baby.
I never imagined the possibility I’d need surgery whilst being so far along in my pregnancy.
My mother rushes over to hold me and I cry uncontrollably on her chest.
I felt guilty. Guilty I was having this surgery. Guilty I had the tumour. Guilty I was putting our little girl’s life at risk.
“I never thought I’d I have to choose between saving myself and protecting my baby’s life.” I sniffle.
Ian starts crying with me and it suddenly hits us that we may lose our daughter in the next few hours.
That my miraculous complication free recovery from last year, wasn’t so miraculous after all.
As scared as I am, I begin to think of all the couples in the world who’ve been trying to conceive and haven’t been able to. And how lucky I was to have even conceived within a month of trying.
I think about all the women and partners who’ve gone through one miscarriage after another, and I find comfort knowing if they can get through that emotionally, I can get through this blip too.
I decide to stop worrying about my uncertain future or what’s going to happen to our baby girl.
… I choose to believe the surgery is exactly what I and Skylar need to be alive and together as a family.
The clock strikes 12pm and I’m rushed into the nearest theatre for my operation. There’s a chance that by this point, a part of my intestine is no longer viable and they’ll need to cut that out too.
I hoped that whilst this surgery was major, because it was less complex than my last surgery, recovery would be easier.
But I was wrong.
Though Dr Smith was able to successfully cut my 9 inch scar across my abs, find and remove the bowel obstruction without needing to cut my intestine, my recovery was harder.
I hadn’t eaten anything in 5 days, I was dehydrated, pregnant and my body began shutting down.
Admitted into the intensive care unit, the doctors suspected I had contracted sepsis in the hospital, were worried that my blood work showed I was malnourished in almost every possible way and that I was at high risk of going into cardiac arrest.
To save me, they injected me with as many fluids as they could, closely monitored my heart and treated me for sepsis.
But the more fluids the nurses injected into me, the more my body rejected the medication.
Every drip made every inch of my body feel like it was burning. My body got so swollen, my legs and feet became unrecognisable, and I began losing functionality in my left hand. I couldn’t feel or move a single finger on my left hand, nor could I move my left wrist.
“Please… stop injections … I feel… too much … pain.” I beg breathlessly.
“Joy… we have to give you these fluids. You haven’t eaten food in 7 days and you’re severely malnourished. Your heart is struggling and if we don’t give you these fluids, you’ll have a heart attack.” an ICU nurse tries to explain while looking in my eyes.
Though I was drugged up, half asleep and didn’t completely understand what she was saying… there’s one thing I knew for sure. My body doesn’t respond well to drugs.
“Please… stop the drugs. If they hurt me this much, they’ll hurt the baby even more.” I plead in agony.
The nurse ignores me and continues injecting more drugs into my hand. Within seconds my entire body feels a sharp stabbing pain, stabbing and spreading all through my arms and down to my legs. I can’t hold on any longer.
And so I begin to wonder, what do you do when you feel someone’s recommendation isn’t good advice, but is instead bad advice?
It dawns on me that all the years I’ve been encouraged to be a “good girl,” and a “good patient,” weren’t going to help me spot the difference between good advice and bad advice.
Often when we get given advice by someone we trust, we don’t verify whether it’s accurate. Even if a feeling in our gut tells us something isn’t right, we go along with the recommendation because someone of authority said so.
A doctor said so.
A priest said so.
A parent said so.
A teacher said so.
And yet the truth is, there are plenty of times when the people we trust… even the people we trust with our lives, get things wrong. Not because they want to be wrong. In fact, they want to be right and they may even mean well.
But the reason they sometimes get things wrong is because they don’t really know you or what you’re capable of.
Perhaps you’ve noticed this yourself.
Has there ever been a doctor who has wrongly diagnosed you or prescribed you with something that didn’t work?
Has a parent ever given you advice you knew wasn’t right for you?
Has a teacher ever implied you weren’t smart enough to achieve something?
And has a personal trainer or nutritionist ever given you diet advice that worked for other people but didn’t work for you?
When I think of all the times I’ve been given advice or prescriptions that didn’t work for me… I realise I need to stop feeling intimidated by the nurses and doctors in white lab coats and I needed to start following my intuition and listen to that quiet, shy voice inside of me.
That voice that tells you you’re in danger before something terrible happens. That voice that tells you to not walk down a dark alley. That voice that tells you to not take recreational drugs even if your friends suggest it. That voice that tells you to get a second opinion.
The same voice that told me I had an abdominal obstruction, despite all the doctors and nurses around me telling me I was in denial and in labour, ended up being right.
And if that voice is telling me that continuing this medication will make me weaker and will cause birth defects or make me have a miscarriage… I better not ignore it.
So instead of submitting to the doctors and their requests, I call the nurse over to my bed.
Though I’m tired and weak, I slowly utter the sentence.
“Stop treating me. I understand you’re … concerned about the risks… if I stop your treatment… but I know my body really.. really well. What you’re doing is killing me… I feel better when… you don’t give me medication. So stop giving me this medication. And get me out of ICU… now!”
Surprised, the nurse looks at me like I’m being stupid and unreasonable. She calls the senior doctor and nurse on call to try and change my mind.
“Joy, you really need this medication. You could go into cardiac arrest. You’re so weak and malnourished!” the senior doctor tries to warn me.
And I firmly repeat “I may be fragile… I may be weak. But I’m conscious. And I don’t want anymore treatment. You don’t have the right to give me treatment without my consent.”
The senior doctor and nurse look at each other in disbelief and fear that I don’t know what I’m doing.
As soon as they confirm they’ll take me out of ICU first thing in the morning, I share the news and text my husband who’s waiting down the hall for visiting hours to open.
He responds in laughter, saying “I can picture doctors chasing you down the hospital wing, trying to stop you from running and escaping the hospital.”
As funny as his text was, it was true. I somehow went from being the “good girl” and “good patient” into the mad lady running out of hospital refusing treatment.
Except I’m not mad. I’m just a woman who knows my rights, who trusts my intuition and will do everything I can to fight to for the life of the baby girl growing inside me.
Fortunately, after the treatment stopped, I started to heal and the miracles began.
Within just 12 hours of not being on certain medication and 3 days after surgery, not only did my blood work normalise, my chest pains went away, my heart rate returned to normal and I was able to walk a mile around the hospital.
Mr Smith returned to the hospital to discharge me and said,
“Joy, I have to hand it you. You’re resilient. I think you’re right. You’ll recover better at home than here. You can leave tomorrow.”
Hearing these words brought a huge sigh of relief.
But there was this big question haunting my husband and I…
“Is Skylar, our baby girl okay?”
A couple weeks went by after I got discharged from hospital, and Ian, my parents and I met at my 20 week ultrasound appointment.
Laying on the bed as the gynaecologist put cold jelly on my belly, I was reminded me of the time I was waiting for my biopsy results.
I hold my breath and close my eyes before looking at the screen as the consultant looks for our baby.
“There she is…
There’s your girl…
Her heart is beating so strong…”
The brunette and young gynaecologist smiles and continues,
I don’t see any abnormalities….
It’s as though she’s been completely unaffected by all of this. You have a strong, healthy girl growing normally inside you. Well done!” the gynaecologist happily confirms.
I smile at Ian and together we simultaneously breathe a huge sigh of relief.
Despite everything that’s happened.. the tumour, whipple surgery, losing multiple digestive organs, having a rare and life threatening abdominal obstruction, undergoing emergency surgery whilst being 18 weeks pregnant and being doped on heavy drugs you’re not supposed to take while being pregnant…
… Skylar, our little girl is okay.
In fact, she’s more than okay. She’s very healthy.
A part of me feels like she’s even stronger than I.
I’m still in awe of the miracles that have come after another trying time in my life… in our marriage.
I’ve been struggling to process what I’m supposed to learn from this. And while I haven’t yet figured this out…
There’s one thing thing I know for sure.
Sometimes you have to listen to that quiet, shy voice in your gut… in your mind. For that voice, is your guide to do the right thing.
Some people say this voice is your gut… some people say this voice is God guiding you. Some people might even say it’s the third eye you awaken.
I don’t know what your beliefs are.
But what I do know for sure is that we are guided and protected, in the smallest and most gentle of ways. All we have to do is listen. Quieten the mind of everything we fear, quieten the noise of confusion, and listen for what we know in our hearts to be true.
No paramedic, midwife or doctor initially thought I had an abdominal obstruction. And no doctor thought I would heal from surgery without the drugs they prescribed me.
And yet the voice of that quiet, shy girl inside me was right. And my intuition to trust in my mothers words and the brief words the obstetrician gave me, gave me confidence when I didn’t have it.
Sometimes people are right and sometimes people are wrong. I hope in your life, you’ll know whose advice to trust… for making the right choice could save your life, your child’s life, your marriage, your career, your business…really anything that means anything to you.
And I’ll remember this lesson for the rest of my life.
My only hope is that I never have to go through another life saving surgery or life threatening thing to learn an important life lesson ever again. I think I’ve done my time now…
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This is the story of my life, and you’re reading it as it happens.